MARGINALIZATION AND YOUTH UNREST IN THE NIGER-DELTA REGION OF NIGERIA


MARGINALIZATION AND YOUTH UNREST IN THE NIGER-DELTA REGION OF NIGERIA

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

Blood and tears are the ink with which the events and history of the presence of oil in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, will ever be written. This could be attributed to a certain class of people that had continued use the instrument of the state to privatize both the natural and physical endowments, to kill, oppress, suppress, pauperize, intimidate, exploit, pollute the land and even unlawfully detain those the natural endowment ought to benefit.

According to the principle of natural law, people who give up something must expect to have something in return, but the nature and the degree of this compensation by the Federal Government has been considered unfair by the Niger-Delta people. The unsatisfactory formula for the redistribution of the oil benefits and mega billion dollars income accruable to the Federal government from the Niger Delta region is among the sources of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta. Sequel to the perceived marginalization of the Niger Delta by the Federal government, groups, movement, associations were formed within the youths for a common front or purpose, these groups include:
• Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People;
• Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
• The Niger-Delta Volunteer Force.
• Movement for the Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality in the Niger-Delta (MOSIEND)
• Ijaw Youth Council
• Egbesu Boys of Africa.
• The Ikwere Youth Movement.
• The Urhobo Youth Movement.
• Isoko National Youth Movement
• Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Community.
These groups have leaders who are elected periodically and are within the framework of struggling for a better deal from the oil extracted from the region. Oil was first discovered at Oloibiri, in an Ijaw village in the Niger Delta, by Shell (then Shell BP) in May 1956. Commercial exploitation began two years later. Half of the revenue was given to the Eastern Region government (Dibie, 2006:126) of which the provinces and communities of the Niger Delta were part. The rest was appropriated by the Federal Government under a fiscal arrangement based partly on the principle of derivation. It is of significance to note, however, that in 1957, a year before the production of oil in the area commenced, the communities of the Niger Delta and several other minority ethnic groups in the country had complained to the Willink Commission set up to enquire into their fears as negotiations began for a constitutional framework within which the country would be granted independence from Britain, that they were being neglected by the regional and central government in the provision of social amenities and political appointments. The Willink Commission declined to create a separate state for the minority ethnic groups in the Eastern Region as their leaders demanded (Imobighe, 2004:94) but their protests were later to give birth to the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB), a special agency established by the Federal Government to tackle the developmental needs of the area because of the peculiar harshness of the terrain they inhabited.

When the military coup of 1966 and the civil war that followed in their wake put an end to whatever dreams and plans that the NDDB had to impact positively on the lives of those impoverished people, and ushered in a political and fiscal regime that did not only transfer the bulk of the oil revenue to the Federal government, as nationalized by decree, the land and mineral resources of the communities of the Niger Delta without consulting them. Thereafter, General Yakubu Gowon, the Head of State at the time, enacted the Petroleum Decree effecting this transfer, in 1969 when troops had taken control of the strategic oil terminal town of Bonny, and were pressing on their advantage to force an unconditional surrender to Biafra.

The civil war which was fundamentally an oil war, had little regard for the people on whose land the oil was derived, and all through the oil boom years lasting up to 1980. They were conspicuous in their absence when it came to allocating infrastructure and social amenities. Indeed, one of General Gowon’s key advisers in the Federal Civil Service, Mr. Philip Asiodu, made the cynical remark that the people of the Niger Delta could do nothing to change the state of affairs because they were numerically insignificant in the Nigerian scheme of things (Crowder, 1978:258). Little wonder then that when the stroke broke in 1960 with the advent of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) it took everybody, including Nigeria’s military government by surprise.
When the then Nigerian Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida established yet another development agency OMPADEC (Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission) for the benefit of the Niger Delta in 1992, he was in a manner of speaking, trying to nip the brewing storm in the bud. But OMPADEC was the classic case of locking the gate when the horse had already bolted. Umucehem, an oil producing community in the Niger Delta had been flattened and several people killed by anti-riot police on Babangida’s order in October, 1989. Youths in the town had petitioned Shell, which had been mining oil in the community for over twenty years, to assist them in providing social amenities for the people. They were also unhappy because the company had subjected the environment to devastation, spilling oil and burning production associated with gas in its flow station recklessly and ceaselessly.

The youths wanted to discuss these and other related issues with Shell officials but they were not granted audience. Instead Shell wrote to the government requesting the assistance of anti-riot police to deal with hoodlums who were threatening their staff and hindering their operations. The next morning, two lorry-load of armed policemen descended on the town killing thirty people and burning several houses.

The Umuechem massacre (Agbese, 1993:13) sent shock waves through the oil-producing communities – and forcefully brought home to them the fact that the civil war, in which the Eastern Regions succession bid was crushed and the oil receipts transferred to the central government, had not really stopped and they were now next in line for pacification. It is therefore, not a coincidence that MOSOP, an umbrella organization comprising several associations and self-help groups in Ogoni, a 500,000 strong, ethnic group in the central part of the Niger Delta emerged one year after the sacking of Umuechem. MOSOP was unique in that it was a grassroots social movement, supported by virtually all Ogoni, with a clearly articulated goal contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.

When no response was forthcoming from the oil multi-nationals and the government, MOSOP followed up by organizing a peaceful demonstration in January 1993 in which 300,000 Ogoni men, women and children participated.

The January 1993 march was the turning point in the struggle of the communities of the Niger Delta for emancipation. One concrete achievement of the march was the expulsion of Shell workers, by non-violent means from the Ogoni fields; the Shell company officials therefore saw the emergence of MOSOP and the growing hostility of the people as threat that resulted in the shutting down of the Ogoni wells. A real impact to their profits, a malignant virus that had to be dealt with quickly and decisively, was not to spread to other parts of the Niger Delta. However, analysts and commentators on the present crisis in the Niger Delta tend to assume that the violent confrontation between the local communities, the oil companies and the government began, only in the early nineties and that before then the area was an oasis of peace and tranquility. Inhabited by a contented and law-abiding people (Vanguard, June 2, 2009), the Niger Delta has been ruled by violence since the mid-nineteenth century when Britain and other European power plundered the coast and its hinterland of young Africans who were shipped to the new world as slaves. The Shell’s decision to collaborate with General Abacha to pacify the Osun in 1993 was merely a continuation of a firmly established tradition of suppressing the natures of the Delta with the maxim gin makes it easier to take away their economic resources unchallenged, coupled with the refusal of the British Colonial government and the leaders of the three dominant political parties – the Northern People Congress, the NCNC and the Action Group to grant the people of the area some measure of political and economic autonomy.

In 1957, General Gowon’s decree transferred the revenue from oil mined in their land to the Federal Government during the civil war in 1969. General Olusegun Obasanjo’s Land Use Act of 1978 converted oil land in the country including oil minerals obtained from them to Federal Government. General Babangida’s enactment of the Treason and Treasonable offences decree of 1993 and its application on Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni eight in November, 1995 were all piece-mean action denying the local people self-determination and in so doing, prevent them from using natural resources for their own good.

1.2 Statement Of the Problem
This research problem has to do with the majority of the movements that are fighting in the Niger Delta. Ijaw which is the fourth largest nation in Nigeria after the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo, are spread throughout the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta and constitute a sizeable population of such states as Rivers, Delta, Edo, Ondo, Cross River and Bayelsa. The bulk of the oil wells operated by the Western oil companies are in Ijaw territory. Government and oil company officials alike were therefore, understandably alarmed when the IYC issued its ultimatum in December 1998. General Abdulsalam Abubakar who had taken over after General Abacha in June 1998, immediately dispatched several warships to the Delta (Obari, 1999:41). When Ijaw youths went out in the streets of Yenogoa, the Bayelsa State capital in peaceful protest. About three hundred of them were shot dead by soldiers in cold blood (Saduwa, 1999:41). The soldiers also invaded the town of Kaiama and murdered several people, including the son of the King of the town, many women and under-aged girls were also raped at gun point.

The destruction of Odi by Nigeria’s democratic government, elected only in May 1999, is not only symptomatic of the crisis that has gripped the country’s oil-rich region since the late eighties, it is also a clear indication that the brutality with which previous regimes dealt with legitimate political dissent is still very much a feature of governance in this crisis-ridden nation. It also reveals the strategic importance of the Niger Delta in the economy and politics of Nigeria; which derives over 95 percent of its external revenue from oil receipts. Thereafter, it has been repression and oppression by the Federal Government through the established Joint Military Task Force, against the liberation fighters.

In summary, the problem of youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region, deals with long period of tolerance by the youths of the oil producing communities. In fighting for the rights against unlawful arrests, environmental degradations, military attacks and intimidations, extortions and dehumanization of their wives and families, underdevelopment of all kinds, and detention of youth leaders in the Niger-Delta region, following the execution of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) leader and Environmental Activist, Ken Saro Wiwa with eight other compatriots in 1995 by the late General Abacha’s administration. The youths in the Niger Delta (particularly Delta, Yayelsa and River States) became convinced that the Federal Government has dared them, and came to the conclusion that it was better to die than to live under the exploitative and intimidating attitude of the Federal government.

Consequently, the Kaiama Declaration of December 11, 1998 which sought for full and total control of the proceeds by the oil producing areas, which on the other hand attracted a forced resistance from the Federal Government. This difference had since degenerated into an open confrontation of the youth-movement and the Federal Government deployed armed men to the Niger Delta region, resulting in massive killings.

The empirical research question here is, is there no possible solution to these age-long crisis in the Niger-Delta region, either locally or internationally in other to stop the waste of human lives and resources?

1.3 Objective of the Study
The central focus of this study is to examine how political, economic environment and other issues which encompasses marginalization, which mainly evolves as a result of oil exploration of multi-national companies constitute the basis of youth/military restiveness, resource conflicts and attendant violence in the Niger-Delta. Also, the study will examine the effects and possible solutions to the youth unrest in the Niger-Delta.

The study will also focus on how efficient the oil companies and Government agencies alleviate the suffering of the people in terms of provision of social amenities.

1.4 Research Hypotheses
1. The youth unrest in the Niger-Delta region is closely linked to the presence of oil in the affected area.
2. The insensitivity of Federal Government to the plight of the oil producing communities in the Niger-Delta region, aggravates the youth restiveness in the region.
3. The unemployment of the youths by the oil companies in the affected areas is a factor of kidnapping and hostage taking of oil workers.
4. The youth unrest in the oil rich region would be greatly reduced when there is adequate social, economic and political infrastructure in that area.
5. Improve the standard environmental procedure for companies operating in such area in order to regain the lost ecosystem, so that the people can return back to the occupation of fishing and farming.

1.5 Significance of the Study
The significance of this study lies primarily on the fact that it will:
1. Seek to provide an objective and honest investigation of the rationalization of the claims of the youths to the action or response of the government
2. Identify the roles of both the Federal and State Governments and the multi-national oil companies in the management of the Niger-Delta crisis and youth restiveness.
3. Through this effort, suggest useful solutions that if adopted and implemented, will bring about peaceful co-existence among the youths, between the youths and the oil companies, and youths and federal government.

1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study
This study will cover the difference violence that have occurred in the Niger-Delta and the recent one that happened in the Gbaramantu village of Delta State. However, this study will be limited to the remote causes of youth restiveness, effects on the immediate environment and the resolution effort of the Federal and State Governments so far, through the NDDC, the Ministry of the Niger Delta and the recent Amnesty offer by the Federal Government.

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